An Early Career Researcher in Charlotte

I'm Dr. Katherine Daniels, an early career experimental research scientist in the Fluid Processes Laboratory at the British Geological Survey. I work on low permeability materials and conduct tests to quantify the properties of these materials so that we understand under what conditions they could be used as barriers to the flow of fluids underground. This April I was fortunate enough to spend a week in the USA, as the result of an Early Career Researchers Development Fund grant from the Geo-Energy Research Centre (GERC). The purpose of my trip to America was to attend the International High Level Radioactive Waste Management Conference (IHLRWMC) at the Westin Charlotte Hotel, Charlotte, North Carolina, and I had a very busy time!

Uptown Charlotte, North Carolina

Charlotte N.C., famed for its transformation from a farming heritage to a modern banking centre, is a major airport hub and many people pass through it without venturing into the city centre. The centre “uptown” is smaller than I had imagined it would be for one of America’s fastest growing cities; walking from one side to the other took no more than 30 minutes, and with temperatures in the low 20s most days, it was very pleasant to get the opportunity to be outside in the sunshine.

The IHLRWMC is always a popular event, and with this year’s slogan “Creating a Safe and Secure Energy Future for Generations to Come - Driving Towards Long-Term Storage and Disposal” it was sure not to disappoint. The meeting was attended by over 150 people, making it a great place to network and meet others working in the same field – something I was happy to do. The conference began with two plenary sessions on Monday and each morning thereafter, with simultaneous technical sessions held every afternoon on a number of different subject themes. This really allowed me to get a good understanding of lots of areas of radioactive waste disposal that I wasn’t already familiar with. Monday evening held the ice-breaker event that allowed the delegates to meet and discuss ideas and thoughts from the first day’s presentations over some of the local delicacies. I was fortunate to be able to give a talk in the Wednesday afternoon themed session on “Performance Demonstration, Confirmation and Safety Research – II) and was also able to publish a short-format paper on same the research in the conference proceedings1. The proceedings were provided to each of the delegates so the research I presented will have a wide impact, especially amongst colleagues from the different National Laboratories and Waste Management Organisations (WMOs) in the U.S.A. and Canada who were well represented at the conference. In addition, there were delegates in attendance from many European nations’ WMOs, as well as the UK’s WMO, the Radioactive Waste Management Ltd.

The work that I presented was on permeability measurements from the Bruce Nuclear Site in Ontario Canada; here, Ontario Power Generation intends to build a deep geological repository for low to intermediate level radioactive waste. The Fluid Processes Laboratories at the BGS have the equipment to enable us to conduct steady-state permeability measurements, which have some advantages over the more commonly conducted transient permeability tests, although our tests take much longer to carry out! I ran steady-state permeability tests on two rock core samples from the Queenston and Cobourg Formations and was able to provide permeability measurements for the site that were an order of magnitude lower than the resolution usually possible using transient testing, confirming the ultralow permeability of these rocks.

Presenting my paper at the IHLRWM 2017 Conference

The researchers I met from the Sandia National Laboratory who are working on the Carlsbad Waste Isolation Pilot Plant were particularly interesting to talk to; this is the only active geological disposal site currently taking and permanently disposing of radioactive waste generated by the research and production of nuclear weapons. In addition, this site is mined into a halite formation, which is also interesting to my research group at the BGS because of the very low permeability of this material and its ability to creep and self-seal.

I also met a number of colleagues from the Canadian NWMO, the group who had provided the materials for testing in the study that I conducted and presented at the conference. It was great to be able to put faces to names! I received some really valuable feedback on the work from the people that I met, and the conference has provided me with lots of ideas for avenues of future research. All in all, it was a fantastic trip.

The Charlotte Skyline at sunset on my last night

1 Daniels, K. A., Harrington, J. F., Jensen, M., 2017. Permeability measurements from a potential deep geological repository site. IHLRWM 2017, Charlotte, NC, April 9-13.

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